Stewardship efforts along a Clark County stream benefit steelhead and return a tamed landscape to the wild
“Liberation” was the subject line of the e-mail Paula Larwick sent us this year on her observations of the changing landscape at Rock Creek, a major tributary of the East Fork Lewis River in Clark County, Washington.
In 2015, Larwick sold Columbia Land Trust 51 acres of forest along a 4,500-foot section of Rock Creek, a priority habitat for Endangered Species Act–listed winter-run steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Today, Larwick is a site steward of the property, which sits just behind her home of 26 years. She watches as the Land Trust’s restoration begins to transform the forest and thereby the creek below.
“For about 100 years, the hillside of land above Rock Creek here in Dole Valley has been constrained by mankind,” said Larwick. “The land had been graded, and a railroad line had been built to transport logs harvested after the Yacolt Burn. The land once felt restricted, manipulated, tamed, and even oppressed.”
The restoration project, managed by Land Steward Emily Matson, has involved abandoning more than a mile of old forest road once used to convey timber. A local contractor, Land Renovators, removed nine culverts, which once allowed water from multiple small streams and hillside seeps to pass under the road. The culverts had become blocked, letting water flow over the road surface and transfer harmful sediment downslope into Rock Creek, where fish spawn and grow. Newly installed water bars along the road now act as intercepting mini-dikes, redirecting water across the road and into the soil. This winter, the Land Trust will plant native trees and shrubs to help the forest reclaim the old roadbed.
Winter-run steelhead, who rely on clean, cold water, spawn and rear in the upper reaches of lower Columbia River tributaries, including Rock Creek. Unlike other salmon, steelhead don’t always die after spawning and some return to spawn again. Ensuring the water in Rock Creek is clear of road sediment will keep spaces between creek gravel open, providing a safe channel for fish eggs to develop and hatch and give juvenile fish places to hide from predation.
“The land above Rock Creek has been waiting for help,” says Matson. “This project doesn’t require a large amount of resources, but it will have long-lasting impacts on the creek.”
As Larwick and the Land Trust observe the forest recover on the slopes above Rock Creek, we believe the steelhead arriving this month will find relief in the fresh water below.